Microsoft (s MSFT) is scheduled to take the wraps off its next Xbox at an event in Redmond, Wash. Tuesday, and the reveal of the new device is likely to not just get gaming fans excited: Game consoles have become the most popular devices to consume Netflix (s NFLX) and other forms of online video in the living room, and Microsoft is expected to double down on TV viewing with the new device.
Of course, Microsoft has kept mum on what it is going to announce, but there have been a few leaks and reports that give us a good idea on what the new Xbox is going to offer:
A switch to PC hardware and Windows 8
The next Xbox is going to be based on an x86 processor likely made by AMD (for the specs lovers: there have been reports of an 8-core processor running at 1.6GHz CPU with 4MB of L2 cache), and a pretty powerful GPU to make those next-generation games look good. The device is also supposed to run a special version of Windows 8.
Why that matters: Moving away from ARM and closer to the hardware and software of an ordinary desktop PC should make it easier to develop apps for the platform, which could bring even more entertainment services to the platform. There’s also talk that the next Xbox will allow multitasking, which means you might be able to run Skype while you watch a video on Netflix, or watch TV while you do some casual gaming.
A Blu-ray drive
There have been a number of reports claiming that the next Xbox will come with an integrated Blu-ray player. Microsoft didn’t add a Blu-ray drive to its Xbox 360 game console, and instead opted to offer users the option to buy a drive for the competing HD DVD standard – only to pull out of HD DVD when it became obvious that the format had no chance against Blu-ray.
Why this matters: Blu-ray is a nice add-on for Xbox users who want HD movies without having to deal with yet another box in their living room. But it’s also an admission that physical media will still be around for some time, especially considering that high-quality movie downloads and bandwidth caps don’t mix all that well.
Live TV, courtesy of your cable box
Leaks of key documents about the next Xbox’s hardware have shown that the device will come with two HDMI ports: One to connect the Xbox to your TV, and one to connect your cable box to the Xbox. That’s the same setup used by Google (s GOOG) TV and the latest Slingbox, and it allows Microsoft to access your live TV programming and overlay it with its own programming guide, widgets and apps.
Why this matters: Microsoft wants users to always consume TV through the Xbox — even if the actual TV programming comes from traditional cable, and not an Xbox Live app. This shows how important TV has become for the Xbox, but the somewhat cumbersome setup also goes to show how complicated it is for even someone like Microsoft to get access to the content that matters most to consumers.
No little sibling
Last year, rumors surfaced that Microsoft was going to offer two separate Xboxes: A full-blown game console, and a lighter and cheaper device that would focus on video and TV viewing and only offer casual gaming. It now looks like we won’t see that Xbox mini any time soon.
Why this matters: A cheap, and lightweight companion device like the Roku or the Apple TV could be a good way for Microsoft to address new audiences. But getting these devices right is challenging, which is one of the reasons why the existing Xbox 360 and PS3 have been so much more popular than any of the streaming boxes.